Key Takeaways from Amplio’s April Webinar
In Ghana, our joint Talking Book COVID-19 awareness campaign is underway in the Upper West Region. Amplio is partnering with Literacy Bridge Ghana, Ghana Health Services, and UNICEF to reach rural, media-dark communities during this public health crisis. During an April 23 webinar, our local partners shared updates and insights from the project.
- Florence Angsomwine, Director, Jirapa Municipal Health Directorate
- Georgina Amindu, Communications for Development Officer, UNICEF Ghana
- Tiah Aloysius Gumah, Executive Director, Literacy Bridge Ghana
- Ryan Forbes Morris, Senior Program Manager, Amplio
1. The rural healthcare system in northern Ghana was already stretched thin.
Florence Angsomwine, director of Jirapa Municipal Health Directorate, explained the challenges the region’s health system faces, especially in rural areas. There are few hospitals and clinics in the three regions in the north of Ghana, and these are in the more urban areas like Jirapa, Tamale, and Wa. Health facilities have limited staff, with one doctor for 50,000 people. Rural areas are especially underserved. Therefore, Ghana Health Service’s Community-Based Health Planning System (CHPS) centers focus on health education and preventative care.
Because of this, an influx of COVID-19 patients will be difficult if not impossible for the region’s health system to handle. Health systems around the world are struggling to manage healthcare supplies and staff. One of the main coping strategies is to “flatten the curve” to slow the spread of the virus by practicing healthy behaviors like hand washing and social distancing.
However, in order to promote hygiene and safety practices, Ghana Health Service needed a way to share information with the rural remote communities they serve. Angsomwine said the question was, “How do we reach people with information on COVID-19 if we already have limited resources to educate and treat these people?” In rural areas, communication is further complicated by the high illiteracy rate and low access to mass media in the area, and GHS decided the Talking Book was just the thing to bridge this gap.
Community agents use Talking Books to share local language information on COVID-19.
2. CHPS nurses and community health volunteers used the Talking Book as a communication strategy before COVID-19 became a threat.
Georgina Amindu said that community health nurses who work in rural CHPS centers often have to choose between their missions of education and care. As a result, CHNs usually focus on vital care like immunizations. This means that health information doesn’t always reach those who need it. In addition to being pressed for time, many CHPS nurses don’t speak the local dialect. Language barriers make it difficult to educate patients and answer their questions.
In 2019, UNICEF piloted the use Talking Books at eight CHPS centers in Jirapa. CHPS nurses used Talking Books to share health information in each community’s local language. As a result, listeners were better able to understand the recommended health behaviors. Nurses reported that using Talking Books helped save time and keep families engaged and informed, allowing them to focus more on their clinical work.
“When a nurse is going to a community where she doesn’t speak the language, she is not too worried, because she has the Talking Book,” Amindu said.
3. COVID-19 is forcing NGOs to be adaptable, and LBG is rising to the occasion.
Tiah Gumah saw an opportunity to apply LBG’s Talking Book experience and CHPS success to the emerging problem of COVID-19. After Amplio, GHS, and UNICEF agreed to move forward with the project, LBG acted quickly to create audio content and deploy Talking Books in the field. The positive response from community health nurses was immediate. A CHN from the Sissala East district said, “The Talking Book makes health education on COVID-19 easier and more effective.”
Still, Gumah did note that there was some initial opposition from local political leaders, who were concerned that passing Talking Book devices around the community might expose people to the virus. This was because previous Talking Book programs have included a household rotation model, with one device shared by several families or groups. LBG assured them that this was not the case for the COVID-19 response.
LBG and GHS are following recommended safety protocols. For this project, Talking Book devices will only be handled by community health workers who use PPE and maintain social distance. Moreover, the Talking Book’s built-in speaker combined with external loudspeakers (purchased for this project) will allow health workers to share life saving messages while maintaining safe social distance at the CHPS centers and during home visits.
Mobilizing quickly in challenging times
So far, LBG has provided training and distributed Talking Books to 207 CHPS zones and 73 community health volunteers in 8 districts. Amplio and its partners are currently seeking funds to continue the COVID-19 awareness campaign until August and expand the initiative to 6 more districts in the Upper West and Northern regions. These districts border Burkina Faso and Togo, where there is an increased risk due to cross-border activities.
While many NGOs that were operating in the region have shut their doors and evacuated staff, Amplio’s partners are mobilizing. We’re proud to support this collaborative effort to reach rural, media-dark communities during a public health crisis.